For the last 14 years, the LGBTQ advocacy organization Outright Vermont has hosted "Drag Idol," where novice drag queens and drag kings are invited to perform in a drag competition. The 2017 Drag Idol winner was Shani Stoddard, who took home the $100 prize and bragging rights.
Stoddard said drag had always looked like a lot of fun and he had the time of his life doing Drag Idol. The visibility he gained from that show has led to more gigs, and Vermont Edition caught up with Stoddard at Social Club & Lounge in Burlington before a drag show called "Fatale Thursdays."
He performs as Shani Stoddard, no stage name or over-the-top persona — at least not yet. And Stoddard says that style is intentional.
"Me as a drag performer is not too far off from the person that I am on a regular basis," Stoddard admits. "Add the heels and this crazy coat and these lashes, but other than that I've always embraced the parts of my personality that other folks might call androgynous."
In a black pantsuit belted tight, high heels and a red satin coat with shoulder pads, Stoddard makes for an understated drag queen.
"My drag aesthetic for now stems from real people that I see and grew up watching," he says, pointing to Janet Jackson, Madonna and Shania Twain, who he labels as "powerhouse women of the '90s."
"I don't think I'll ever come out in a wig," he says. "I don't think I'll ever perform in a breast plate," the heavy silicon breast prosthetics that many drag queens wear to give them a heaving bosom.
"Some of that I don't do because it would be hard to perform the way I perform," he laughs. "I'm going to dance from start to finish and I don't want anything to hold me back. This belt is enough."
Stoddard says he's getting used to dancing in high heels by wearing them around the house while he does the dishes. But going shopping for his drag wardrobe was more complicated than he anticipated.
"I thought it would be pretty easy just walking into a store and picking out a bunch of stuff and then going to try it on, and I don't really know how women's sizes work," he admits. "I was in the mall for hours with clothes draped over every part of my body, going back and forth to the dressing room and realizing that not everything is going to work. And it's about figuring out what works for me so that I can feel good, look good, be comfortable."
Stoddard says he didn't get any sideways glances from salespeople or others trying on clothes, but he still felt the need to explain the items in his shopping cart.
"There were sequins and there were jumpers and there [was] some latex in there ... I got to the dressing room and they started to count my items and hold them up and drape them over her arm and there was a line of people behind me, and it was just something that I had to get used to immediately," he recounts.
"As a member of the queer community, I wasn't necessarily embarrassed, per se ... [but] I'm an overexplainer by nature and I sort of wanted to turn around and say 'I'm in a drag show. I'm doing drag now,'" Stoddard says. "But no one really paid attention. I think I probably cared more than anyone else. And it was Burlington, so I'm sure I wasn't the first queen to go in there and try to buy some latex."
Stoddard says the drag scene in Burlington is robust and active and he looks forward to learning more from established performers as he continues to explore self-expression through drag.